The Disadvantages of Using Sugar Substitutes

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Baking ingredients on a table.
Baking ingredients on a table. (Image: Cleardesign1/iStock/Getty Images)

With so many people struggling with their weight, sugar substitutes may seem like a good way to cut calories while still being able to enjoy the taste of something sweet. However, sugar substitutes do not always make a great substitute for regular sugar. From baking to health, the low-calories sweeteners have several disadvantages.

Effect on Baked Goods

Real sugar does more than add sweetness to your favorite muffin or quick bread; it's also responsible for helping to create the tender texture, enhancing the sweet aroma and producing the caramel coloring. Using a low-calorie sweetener may produce a different type of baked goods. These artificially sweetened goods may be denser and paler than if they were made with sugar. Also, because real sugar acts as a preservative, baked goods made with sugar substitutes may not have as long a shelf life as those made with real sugar.

The Taste Factor

While sugar substitutes have come a long way since the discovery of saccharin in the 1800s, they still don't have quite the same taste as regular sugar, and some may have an unpleasant aftertaste. You may need to experiment with different types of sugar substitutes to find the one that suits your taste buds. Also, due to their intense sweetness, you may find that sugar substitutes make your foods too sweet.

Hunger and Weight Gain

Instead of helping you lose weight, sugar substitutes may cause you to gain weight. The sweet taste of a sugar substitute increases insulin production, but without any sugar you may experience hypoglycemia, which increases your appetite, according to a 2011 report in the Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics. This seems to be especially true for those who drink diet beverages, the report goes on to say, noting adults who drink diet soda may be more likely to gain weight than adults who drink regular soda.

Cancer Concerns

In the 1970s, a study linked saccharin to bladder cancer in rats, according to MayoClinic.org, and a warning was placed on the label of foods containing the sugar substitute. However, after numerous studies, the National Cancer Institute reports that there does not seem to be any link between any sugar substitute, including saccharin, and cancer, and the warning label on saccharin has been removed.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes that pregnant women should limit their intake of saccharin because of the difficulty a baby may have clearing the artificial sweetener and potential for buildup in the body.

Other Health Concerns

At one time or another, many of the sugar substitutes have been scrutinized for health safety concerns and have undergone numerous studies to assess their safety. Currently, six sugar substitutes are considered safe for use in the U.S.: saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame K, stevia, aspartame and neotame.

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